Review and recommendations for instruction with Sibert Honor Book 2014 The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.
Read this aloud to my fifth grade daughter and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. I don’t usually review biographies, but this title is a Sibert Honor Book this year and I was curious. The authors tell the story of the life of George Ohr (born in 1857) – who was definitely eccentric. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life and he didn’t fit into the mainstream society. Then discovered a passion for pottery. What’s beautiful is how the authors detail Ohr’s sustained focus on developing his skill at pottery – he was an assistant to another potter, he went to fairs, he traveled across the states studying different potters’ work and trying his hand at pottery. Ultimately his pottery was distinct – and became a tourist attraction in Biloxi where he established a studio. There’s room for discussions with students about the concept of “one’s identity” and “sense of agency” (a sense of “I can do this”) as themes in this book. When a change in technology allowed pottery to be mass produced, Ohr refused to join the fray and continued creating unique pieces. Decades later (1968) Ohr’s work was re-discovered, dusty, piled high in old cartons in a broken down shed. As Ohr predicted (despite his community’s doubts), his work has become priceless and is now displayed in museums.
I would read this aloud to 3rd-5th grade students (over a few days). After reading a chapter or two, you might model (gradually releasing the writing to the students) responding to a prompt like the following:
How does George Ohr develop his identity as a potter?
What did George Ohr do to develop his skills as a potter? Why is this important to consider?
How was George Ohr eccentric? (Define eccentric in student-friendly terms like “tending to act in strange or unusual ways.”)
If you want students to develop a stronger sense of Ohr’s disposition, you might engage students in a close reading of pages 38-39.
There are so many art connections to make, too. Place the book open to images of his pottery on the document camera or project with Smartboard and just spend time looking carefully at these images. The authors use an abundant amount of creative vocabulary to describe his work. One suggestion is to explore using these words while looking at images of his pottery.
Also, there are great quotes from George interspersed throughout the book. You could engage in a close reading of one and discuss the following: What is implied by this quote? Why do you think the author chose this quote? How does the quote develop the author’s main idea?
Okay…I could go on. REALLY like this book.